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Esteemed astronomer joins Wits as a Distinguished Professor

- Wits University

Professor Athol Kemball joins the Wits School of Physics as a Distinguished Professor through the Carnegie Africa Diaspora Programme.

The University of the Witwatersrand is delighted to announce the appointment of Professor Athol Kemball as a Distinguished Professor in the School of Physics.

Professor Athol Kemball

Professor Kemball is the recipient of the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship, which supports scholar fellowships at African higher education institutions to foster research collaboration, graduate student teaching/mentoring, and curriculum co-development.

He is a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign faculty member in the Department of Astronomy and a faculty affiliate at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). His research interests include radio interferometry and high-performance computing. 

Fittingly, the appointment was announced at the African Astronomical Society’s 3rd Annual Conference, hosted by the Wits Centre for Astrophysics. The conference, which took place last week at the Wits Origins Centre, was officially opened by Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi. In his remarks, Vilakazi spoke of the power of astronomy to tackle fundamental physics while capturing the public’s imagination and inspiring young people across the continent to pursue much-needed skills development in science, technology and engineering fields. Kemball’s appointment is an important step in building excellence in astrophysics at Wits and more broadly in the country and across the continent.

“Professor Kemball’s highly regarded expertise directly aligns with astrophysics research at Wits, specifically using South Africa’s pioneering MeerKAT telescope, which will be expanded to form Africa’s Square Kilometre Array mid-frequency array,” said Professor Roger Deane, Director of the Wits Centre for Astrophysics and SKA Chair in Radio Astronomy. “He is also a leading expert in the technique of combining radio signals from antennas spread apart by continental distances to make the sharpest images in astronomy. This is an active research area here at Wits and is fundamental to linking African countries together, as well as to the rest of the world, to form a continental-scale virtual telescope.”  

This appointment forms part of a new collaborative agreement between Wits and the University of Illinois. The collaborative agreement involves the Wits Centre for Astrophysics and is tied to the Wits' engagement with the MeerKAT telescope in the Karoo.

“We are thrilled for Professor Kemball on his appointment as the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg,” said Dr Reitumetse Obakeng Mabokela, Vice Provost for International Affairs and Global Strategies at the University of Illinois. “Engaging in mutually beneficial partnerships is an essential component of ensuring that we foster comprehensive global learning on our campuses.”

Dr Sammer Saleh Jones, Director for Global Relations at the University of Illinois, emphasised how this collaboration aligns with the goals of Vision 2030, the global strategy for the University of Illinois. “We are dedicated to enhancing our relationships with institutions in Latin American and Africa,” said Dr Saleh Jones. “This collaboration aligns with the commitments we identified in Vision 2030, and we are honoured to be working with colleagues at Wits.”

More information about CADFP – The Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program (CADFP) is a scholar fellowship program for educational projects at African higher education institutions. Accredited African universities in six host countries (Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda) can submit project requests to host an African-born scholar currently living in the United States or Canada to engage in research collaboration, graduate student teaching/mentoring, and/or curriculum co-development. The programme is offered by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY). 566 African Diaspora Fellowships have been awarded since the program’s inception in 2013.

More information about AfAS and the annual conference The African Astronomical Society (AfAS) is a Pan-African Professional Society of Astronomers and is a not-for-profit company (NPC) registered in South Africa. The 3rd annual conference took place at the Wits Origins Centre and brought together 100 in-person and over 200 virtual delegates. In addition, a three-day Big Data focused hackathon was hosted at the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, bringing together over 30 students from 9 African countries.   The AfAS vision is to create and support a globally competitive and collaborative astronomy community in Africa, and its mission is to be the voice of astronomy in Africa and to contribute to addressing the challenges faced by Africa through the promotion and advancement of astronomy. The key objective of AfAS is to develop Astronomy and Human Capacity throughout the continent of Africa through a vibrant and active Society. AfAS is currently funded mainly by the South African Department of Science and Innovation. The Office of the Secretariat of AfAS is based at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO), located in Cape Town.